California Penal Code Section 248 PC: Shining Light At An Aircraft To Impair Operation

1. Definition and Elements of the Crimeimpair aircraft operation

Those flying airplanes, helicopters and other aircraft must rely on the ability to maintain a constant view their surroundings. Any distraction to the pilot can cause devastating consequences, including fatal crashes. As a result, shining a light at an aircraft in order to impair its operation is illegal pursuant to California Penal Code Section 248 PC.

To prove that a defendant is guilty of shining a light at an aircraft in order to impair its operation, a prosecutor must be able to establish the following elements:

  1. The defendant willfully shined a light or another bright device at an airplane, helicopter or other aircraft
  2. The light or device had an intensity capable of impairing the operation of the airplane, helicopter or aircraft.
  3. The defendant intended to interfere with the operation of the aircraft.
2. Related Offenses

Other similar or related offenses include:

  1. Shooting in a Grossly Negligent Manner - California Penal Code Section 246.3 PC
3. Examples

A man is playing with a laser pointer when he notices a police helicopter in the air. The man takes the laser pointer and shines it into the windshield of the helicopter as a joke. The man could be charged criminally with shining a light at an aircraft to impair operation in violation of California Penal Code Section 248 PC, as a laser pointer is considered a device that can effectively impair a pilot’s ability to safely operate his or her aircraft.

In another example, a man is camping one night when he hears a loud noise in the sky. He takes his low-intensity flashing and aims it towards the sky in the direction of the sound. The beam of the flashlight hits a low flying airplane that is passing over the man’s position. The man would probably not be guilty of shining a light at an aircraft to impair its operation because a normal flashlight would not be considered a device that is bright enough to impair the safe operation of an airplane.

In another example, a man is outside when he sees a low-flying plane approaching a mountain outcropping. The man is afraid that the pilot is not paying attention to his surroundings so he attempts to get the pilot’s attention by shining a laser pointer into the cockpit. The pilot sees the man’s signal and is able to change his position to avoid collision. The man would not be criminally liable in this case, as he did not intend to interfere with the plane’s operation but, in fact, was trying to help the pilot.

4. Defenses to Shining Light at an Aircraft to Impair Operation

As described above, the light or device used must be sufficiently bright enough to risk impairing the operation of an aircraft in order for the defendant to be guilty of this offense. While most flashlights would probably not be considered intense enough to violate the statute, laser pointers are considered devices that can effectively impair operation of an aircraft.

In addition, the defendant’s shining of the light must be willful and intentional. Thus if the light or device is inadvertently powered on or inadvertently directed at an aircraft, the defendant would have a valid accident defense if charged criminally.

5. Penalties

Shining a light at an aircraft in order to impair its operation is a misdemeanor level offense. Those convicted of this offense could be sentenced to up to a year in jail, expensive court fines, community service or community labor, and any other conditions of probation that may be appropriate.

6. Criminal Defense for Shining Light at an Aircraft to Impair Operation Cases

Shining a light or other device at an aircraft is a serious offense that can result in a criminal conviction on one’s record. If you or someone you know have been charged with this offense, it is crucial that you speak with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney right away. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience. Mr. Kraut is highly regarded throughout the legal community as a tough and knowledgeable litigator who possesses a detailed knowledge of the law.

For more information about shining light at an aircraft to impair operation cases, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1480, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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